WHAT’S IN MY INSTAPAPER: SUNDAY MORNING LINKS, 12/4/11
I haven’t done one of these in a while — a roundup of a few things I’ve stored in my Instapaper for weekend readings.
As the year goes on, Melancholia is emerging as my favorite film of 2011. Part of the reason, I think, is that the discourse about it is becoming more and more interesting. Whereas Von Trier’s Cannes comments dominated the dialogue following its opening, now not just critics but viewers are grappling with the film’s meanings. From the Occupied Territories Tumblr comes “Depression, Melancholia, and Me: Lars Von Trier’s Politics of Displeasure,” an extraordinary essay in which the author explains the film through the prism of depressive understanding. There are many great passages to highlight, but here’s one:
Melancholia is for me a work of solidarity, articulating a politics of displeasure, depression, and unhappiness. Think of how we could change society if only we rejected all of its shallow claims on our wellbeing and attempts to instill in us a belief in consumerism as a panacea. All people who do not conform to the norms of society stand only to gain from this act of subversion, and many of them have already come to realize that sometimes there is nothing more oppressive than an idea of happiness, however well-intentioned, that shackles rather than liberates us. In order for us to really change society, we must start by examining what we need in order to be happy, truly happy according to our deepest selves rather than merely contented and pacified by cheap thrills. Like Justine, we must come to realize that this process is rooted in this politics of displeasure, of an acceptance of unhappiness and an embrace of depression. Justine may appear more melancholic than ever in the film’s final half, but there is sturdy, noble truth in her suffering because she has rejected the need to conform or the delusion that someone like her could pretend to be someone she’s not. It’s a first step toward honest self-acceptance.
And so the point of my point: If we cannot understand what drives and burdens and enlivens remarkable individuals around us who care so deeply about things we know and feel only in a vague way, Melancholia might be a reminder that some day, perhaps soon, we will suddenly see what this sense of justice or compassion or imagination is all about. Something will happen to us as individuals, or to the world. In the meantime, we would do well to watch and withhold judgment: it is the ordinary way of living that is the illusion; reality is what shines in the eyes of the sorrowing or ecstatic or wrathful person on the margins of our vision. And so, as Advent begins, we can at least keep our eyes open, and listen.
Congrats to horror film website Bloody Disgusting — the picture they’re involved with, V/H/S, just got into Sundance.
Highlight Cam is a new app from iOS and Android that automatically edits your videos into showreels.
At Sub Genre, Brian Newman proposes a mercy killing: the film festival panel. Laying the ground for his argument:
They are the zero-sum game of every festival and conference. Why? Because the only knowledge that can be gained from them is accidental, as in when someone accidentally says something they shouldn’t say, self-aggrandizing, as in learning that yes, indeed you are smarter than all the experts they’ve assembled on-stage, or misanthropic, as in when you lose all faith in humanity when the moderator democratically opens the mic to questions from the audience and the first question isn’t a question but rather a pitch for the film the questioner just made or some product they’re trying to sell. The best you can hope for is getting all three in one panel.
Most panels seem put together for one obvious reason – to make the festival look better. Bring in a few key industry players, put them on a panel and take photos for the catalogue and tout the educational benefits in your next grant application. Step back for one second though and ask yourself how educational these panels are? How different are these panels/conferences than the ones held at a Ramada every weekend “teaching” you how to make millions from flipping real estate? How much can I learn from a panel of five “experts” who each spend most of their time trying to talk about how great their company is at doing X thing? Especially when each “expert” has about five total minutes to say anything of value.
At Indiewire, Anthony Kaufman describes how Newt Gingrich is actually an independent filmmaker.
Here’s a mash-up of all the opening quotes from every episode of The Wire.
“How I Made It” — Paranormal Activity producer and former Miramax exec Jason Blum on his career in the L.A. Times.
As a Miranda July fan, I’m embarrassed to have missed the opening of her NYC store, which, writes Rachel Hurn in The Millions, is a Craigslist reseller.
The most charitable description of the SOPA and PiPA bills up before Congress is that in their efforts to combat piracy they are bulls in the china shop that is the internet. At Techdirt, Mike Masnick offers “The Definitive Post on why SOPA and Protect IP are Bad, Bad Ideas.” Masnick details many arguments, but one that I find particularly compelling has nothing to do with the film business:
The functional setup of such site blocking — via DNS blocking — is effectively identical to how the Great Firewall of China works. While the intended purpose is obviously different, the actual mechanism for blocking is nearly identical. This creates significant cover for repressive regimes to resist any diplomatic efforts by the US to push back against attempts by the US to promote internet freedom. Furthermore, we have seen how countries, such as Russia, have used copyright law to censor political opposition, using the law to go against activists challenging the government. Even if the intended purpose of SOPA and PIPA are to protect against infringement, opening up the door to censorship for one purpose makes it nearly impossible to avoid it being used for other purposes. It also basically gives the perfect blueprint for repressive regimes. They merely need to claim that their Great Firewalls are designed to stomp out infringement, and then can use it to intimidate and block political opponents. Adding to that is the massive expansion of the diplomatic corp. pushing for greater enforcement, and it’s almost as if we’re begging countries to set up their own Great Firewalls that will certainly be abused.
Countries abroad are watching us, and already noting the seeming hypocrisy concerning our statements. Media in other countries, who already are known for suppressing speech and censoring the internet, are already mocking the US for even considering such legislation at the same time as the US State Department claims to be promoting internet freedom. Talking about the importance of internet freedom on the one hand, while pushing countries to put in place the very tools that will be used to undermine internet freedom is not a particularly consistent message. This can be seen in VP Joe Biden’s recent speech on internet freedom that presents all the arguments for why SOPA and PIPA should not be supported (in an unintended manner).
Also essential: James Allworth at the Harvard Business Review, “The Great Firewall of America”:
This is terrible legislation. The congresswoman from Silicon Valley, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, yesterday described the effect this bill will have: “from what I’ve already read, this would mean the end of the Internet as we know it”. The U.S. is in a jobs crisis, and one of the few bright spots on the horizon are tech firms like Facebook and Twitter. Make no mistake: this bill threatens their very existence. At best, it will send them fleeing overseas. And for what? To prop up the business model of an industry in the midst of disruption. It’s happened time and time again: the most famous example is Jack Valenti trying to ban the VCR, claiming it was to the movie industry what the Boston Strangler was to women at home. We know how that one turned out: the VCR lived, and the movie industry went on to generate profits unlike it had seen ever before.
This is history repeating. Except the remedy big content are proposing this time wouldn’t just stop VCR technology. It would chill free speech, stop innovation, and pull at the fabric of the internet. In short: they are trying to give America it’s very own version of the Great Firewall of China.
Related: Adam Thierer at Forbes, who ponders “The Twilight of Copyright.”
In Dissent magazine, Charles Taylor echoes ideas of Jaron Lanier about the deleterious effects of internet “community,” relating them to film and film criticism:
WHEN I started as a film critic online at Salon.com, readers could click on a link that allowed them to e-mail me directly. Within a month, I heard from more readers than I had in a decade as a print critic. Not all the letters were nice (though the rude writers often apologized if you wrote back to them and reminded them a person was on the other end of their missive), but I felt in touch with my readers. There was also an edited letters column. That all ended when the publication made it possible for readers to post directly without going through an editor. Almost immediately, I and the other writers I knew stopped hearing directly from readers. Instead, instant posting became survival of the loudest. Posturing and haranguing ruled. If the writer was female or Jewish, misogynists and anti-Semites would turn up. Why wouldn’t they? There was no editor to stop them. Bullies and bigots seized the chance to show off. And those reasonable people, the ones I and my colleagues heard from? They went nowhere near the online forums.
THIS “LIVELY forum” or “spirited debate” or whatever euphemism is now used for online bullying has always been defended by the claims that balance would be restored as reasonable respondents came in to counter the blowhards. Bullet wounds can be stitched up as well, but the damage is already done. “Communication,” the virtual reality pioneer, Jaron Lanier writes in his essential book You Are Not a Gadget, “is now often experienced as a superhuman experience that towers above individuals. A new generation has come of age with a reduced experience of what a person can be, and of who each person might become.”
That kind of divisiveness is what digital culture has come to specialize in on a much broader and insidious scale—and what gets held up as proof of the Web’s democratizing influence. The same progressives who bemoan the way Fox News has polarized political discourse in America, masquerading as news while never troubling its followers with anything that would disturb its most cherished and untested convictions, happily turn to the satellite radio station of their preferred genre or subgenre of music or seek out the support group or message board that fits their demographic, the political site that skews their way. Entering the realm of the other seems done solely to express rage.
Semi-related: at the Pinboard blog, Marcie has an excellent (and wonky) takedown of “the social graph” — “The Social Graph is Neither.” An excerpt:
Social networks exist to sell you crap. The icky feeling you get when your friend starts to talk to you about Amway, or when you spot someone passing out business cards at a birthday party, is the entire driving force behind a site like Facebook.
Because their collection methods are kind of primitive, these sites have to coax you into doing as much of your social interaction as possible while logged in, so they can see it. It’s as if an ad agency built a nationwide chain of pubs and night clubs in the hopes that people would spend all their time there, rigging the place with microphones and cameras to keep abreast of the latest trends (and staffing it, of course, with that Mormon bartender).
We’re used to talking about how disturbing this in the context of privacy, but it’s worth pointing out how weirdly unsocial it is, too. How are you supposed to feel at home when you know a place is full of one-way mirrors?
We have a name for the kind of person who collects a detailed, permanent dossier on everyone they interact with, with the intent of using it to manipulate others for personal advantage – we call that person a sociopath. And both Google and Facebook have gone deep into stalker territory with their attempts to track our every action. Even if you have faith in their good intentions, you feel misgivings about stepping into the elaborate shrine they’ve built to document your entire online life.
At Reuters, Felix Salmon gets to my problem with Margin Call.
If there’s a lesson in Margin Call, I think, it’s only the simple and facile one that Wall Street riches don’t make you happy. I do think the trading-room scenes were surprisingly realistic, by Hollywood standards, and Emerson’s patter as he tries to unwind his massive position rings absolutely true to me — it was written by someone with an excellent ear. (Bettany deserves a lot of credit, too: he plays the role perfectly.) But I think the film ducked the opportunity to show the real damage wrought by Wall Street — the way that while profits go to the bank’s employees, losses get socialized on all of the rest of us.
There was no bailout in this movie; indeed, there weren’t even any regulators. When the bank loses lots of money, it just keeps on going: there’s no sign of how it might recapitalize itself, or who the new owners might be, or even that there are any new owners. It’s a magical world where an insolvent bank can realize enormous losses and stay alive under exactly the same management and ownership. You have a mini-breakdown, you bury your dead dog, and you go back to your extremely well-paid job.
On a lighter note, three clips. First, why ’70s daytime TV could rock — David Bowie performing “Stay” on Dinah Shore. (Hat tip, Dangerous Minds.)
From the website for Will Hermes’ new book on ’70s NYC music, Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, this YouTube video matching footage of Max’s Kansas City and various film clips and photography to the people named in Lous Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side.”
Finally, I kinda like Lady Gaga’s latest video, which she directed and goes enjoyably over-the-top with.
By the way, we’re in the midst of our annual subscription sale. 40% off Filmmaker print and digital subs, and great bonus prize items. Details here.